“Twenty years ago today I moved to Israel,” I said to Ronit. “Twenty years ago exactly.”
Ronit’s eyes brightened. “How does it feel?” she said.
I thought back. “It was so lonely that first summer,” I said. “I dragged the kids to the pool every day. I talked to no one.”
I proceeded to tell her about the tiny bit of regret I felt now over having chosen not to join my husband and two sons on a European trip they would be taking the following week. The airports in August were a nightmare – and the week’s itinerary included things like storming the beaches of Normandy – but as the date approached I was torn.
“Why regret?” she said.
“I’m afraid I’ll be lonely here.”
“Like you were that first summer,” she said.
The feeling of summer – of every summer; of every Israeli summer – was in the air. The Jerusalem Film Festival had made its appearance. Friends I saw during the year were still away on their summer-long visits to the States. Signs had gone up for hutzot hayotzer, the fair that took place every August at Sultan’s Pool, and for the Jerusalem Woodstock Revival.
But this summer was not that summer. The five-year-old was now 25; the two-year-old was 22. And the one who hadn’t even been born yet was 16, his wisdom teeth painfully coming through. As for me, I was inching ever closer to osek morsheh from osek patur, beginning to earn well enough from my editing work that in the not-so-distant future I might have to charge my clients VAT. All of us were growing up.
“I saw the Amy Winehouse documentary the other night,” I said to Ronit. “Did you know she was bulimic? She told her mother she’d found a great way to keep her weight down: just eat whatever you want and then throw it up. I never threw up, but when I left for Brandeis, my plan was to lose so much weight that my parents wouldn’t let me go back after Thanksgiving.”
Ronit looked shocked. “This was something you knew?” she said. “This was something you were conscious of?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “But instead of becoming anorexic, I gained 15 pounds.”
“What interests you about Amy Winehouse?”
I shrugged. “I remember when she died,” I said. “My reaction was, like, Of course. But I never understood why her story went the way it did. Why she hung around with that creepy drug-dealer, the one with the two last names.”
I was about to continue – to tell Ronit something that had happened at the movie theatre – but then I thought better of it. Then I thought again. And then I went for it. I was supposed to say whatever popped into my mind, wasn’t I?
“There was a woman sitting next to me,” I said. “Right before the screening, she turned to me and spoke, but it always takes me a minute to understand when someone speaks to me in Hebrew. When I finally realized that she was saying I looked familiar, we tried to figure out how she might know me. We were stumped. But then after the lights went down, it occurred to me that maybe she recognized me from my picture, the one that accompanies my column. But then I thought, Nah, she’s a Hebrew-speaker. She wouldn’t read an English-language newspaper.”
I hadn’t wanted to tell Ronit all this because I hadn’t wanted to bring up the blog. In fact – as if I could fool her by my choice of words – I called the blog my column instead of calling it my blog. I knew she didn’t like the whole idea of it. Sure enough, her first reaction to my anecdote was to discount it.
“She was alone,” she said. “You were alone.”
The implication being that when people were alone, they made conversation out of nothing, to combat the awkwardness of their aloneness. Meaning that people just said things for the sake of saying them. Meaning that it wasn’t necessarily that I looked familiar, it was just that a woman alone – and lonely – needed to talk.
“But she wasn’t alone,” I said. “She was with people.”
Why did Ronit not want me to write the blog? Because I was writing about her? Because writing about my current therapy – not retrospectively but in real time – struck her as a pathological thing to do, a symptom of something else? I asked her this. I said I had the sense that any other kind of writing – on any other topic – would have received her unequivocal support.
She was quiet. “We talked about family earlier,” she finally said.
This was true. I had been telling her how I wasn’t a group-person, how I had never enjoyed group projects, how I had always preferred working on my own, being on my own, and how I had the sense that my kids were the same.
“You know,” she said, “the first group we ever belong to is our family.”
Good point! I hadn’t thought of that. Had I not wanted to be part of my first group? Did my kids not want to be part of theirs?
“Psychotherapy is also a kind of family,” Ronit said, slowly, deliberately, as if figuring out what she was going to say only as she was saying it. “And in this family . . . you’re right . . . it’s true . . . what you’re doing isn’t done. People don’t do it. It’s a kind of . . . acting out. It’s a kind of . . . risky behavior.”
That resonated, because we had been talking about other risky behaviors. Bulimia. Anorexia. Was she saying that writing for the public about my therapy was a kind of eating disorder?
I fought her. “Why see it as risky?” I said. “Why not see it as creative?”
I was thinking of an excerpt I had read some time ago, from a book called Psychotherapy: An Erotic Relationship. In it, the author David Mann argues against the idea, dating back to Freud, that the passionate feelings developed by patient towards therapist are destructive, a form of resistance, something to conquer. Instead, he sees them as necessary and positive. “The analytic couple,” he writes, “therapist and patient, have an analytic baby, the psychological growth of the analysand (and often of the therapist, too).”
Why couldn’t Ronit see what I was doing as the analytic baby? I didn’t trust her take. I saw it as having more to do with her not wanting to be written about – understandable – than about my betraying some sort of professional code.
What was at risk anyway?
This last made me think. There had been implications all along that as much as I claimed to want closeness and intimacy, I was actually terrified of it. Was this terrified-ness exemplified in my taking something private and making it public? Was Ronit trying to say that in publicizing what went on between the two of us I was destroying the very thing I said I most wanted?
We had reached an impasse, neither of us backing down from our position but neither of us totally convinced of its rightness either.
“So did you ask the woman?” she said finally. “Did you ask her if that was how she recognized you?”
“No,” I said. “I wanted to know, but I also wanted to beat the crowds. I skedaddled before the lights even went back up. I was the first one out of there.”
Ronit smiled. She knew I wasn’t a group-person.